HondurasIllustrated By Alison Cowles
HONDURAS IS ONE OF CONCACAF's overlooked squads, and for good reason: The country failed to qualify for the World Cup from 1982 until 2010. But a new generation of talent helped the Catrachos reach South Africa, and the pipeline continues to produce strong players. The current squad finished on top of its semifinal group, embarrassing Canada 8-1 in the final match. They haven't had any victories quite that decisive during the Hex but have played well enough to be in the conversation for a spot in Brazil.
That would be a boost for a nation rife with corruption and crime–the United States played a qualification game in 2009 during a coup–which can make soccer seem secondary. At the same time, football is one of the few things that unites this country of just over eight million people. Hondurans love La Bicolor. Jonathan Bornstein, the American defender who put Honduras into the 2010 World Cup with a last-second goal against Costa Rica, remains a national hero. Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano, the 38,000-seat stadium in San Pedro Sula, is not the most intimidating place to play due to the wide bowl shape that doesn't trap noise, but the loud, passionate fans–who overflow into the aisles during vital matches–can impress. The United States learned as much with its only Hex loss coming in SPS.Manager Luis Fernando Suarez has dealt with injuries to key players like Emilio Izaguirre and Maynor Figueroa, a Jerry Bengston departure, and a bevy of players getting suspended because of yellow card accumulation. It still lacks the goal-scoring ability it had during the days of Carlos Pavon or Macho Figueroa. Still, the manager's defensive mentality has Honduras thinking of upsetting Mexico for the final automatic qualification spot or earning a position in the playoff.
The CoachLUIS FERNANDO SUAREZ, a Colombian, brought Uruguay to the Round of 16 in the 2006 World Cup, and the Honduran Federation hopes he can match or exceed the success Reinaldo Rueda saw when coaching the Catrachos in 2010. Suarez won the 1989 Copa Libertadores as a player at Atletico Nacional and spent time on the field for Deportivo Pereira before retiring in 1995. In 1999, he returned to Nacional as a manager, winning Colombia's Premier League. He bounced around squads in his home country until Ecuador hired him in 2004, and he led the side through a successful qualification and World Cup. Suarez intended to take Ecuador through the 2010 cycle but was fired after three defeats in qualifying. He landed at Honduras after the resignation of Mexican Juan de Dios Castillo, who led the squad for five months between August 2010 and January 2011. Suarez oversaw the team's semifinal appearance at the 2011 Gold Cup and their first-place finish in Group C of the 2014 World Cup qualification third round.
The TacticsHONDURAS HAS EVOLVED over the years into much more than the just the technically proficient, dominant Central American side it had been pre-2000. The modern Honduran game incorporates considerable size, speed, and strength, focusing on attacking in waves at speed. Occasionally vulnerable in back, Honduras makes amends with one of the strongest offenses in the region. The results can be overwhelming. Witness the 8-1 drubbing in the final third-round group match against Canada. But the fact that the Catrachos needed to win that game to qualify for the Hexagonal also demonstrates how the Honduran game tends to turn cold abruptly, and with little warning. Finding consistent form has been the greatest challenge over the past decade for a team that at times has looked like the best in the region, only to come up short when it counts. Honduras has, however, achieved some consistent success against the region’s best competition, while producing some incredible talent. And it returned to the World Cup in 2010. As these things tend to go, while the Hondurans clearly have Mexico’s number, they’ve struggled mightily with the U.S., losing at home to the Americans in the 2001 and 2009 Hexagonals. The Catrachos tend to be a slow starting side in the Hex, which could be to the Americans’ advantage when they visit San Pedro Sula in early February. Less fortunate is that the Hondurans get the January Central American championship to warm up, though the ever more numerous Catrachos in Europe will miss out on that preparation.
The HistoryHONDURAS HAS REACHED the World Cup twice, once in 1982 and again in 2010. They have never won a game or qualified for the knockout stage, going 0-3-3. Drawn into a difficult group in South Africa, the team did not score in the tournament, posting a 1-0 loss to Chile and conceding two goals to Spain's David Villa before tying 0-0 against Switzerland. But they played better than the results would indicate, and the experience gained while facing some of the planet's top teams was instructive and valuable. If Honduras can reach the sport's biggest stage in 2014, they could surprise the world.
World Cup Results1990: DNQ (Eliminated in the second round of 1989 CONCACAF Championship qualifying)
1994: DNQ (Eliminated in final round)
1998: DNQ (Eliminated in semifinal round)
2002: DNQ (Eliminated in final round)
2006: DNQ (Eliminated in semifinal)
2010: Group Stage